My Grandpa could re-purpose anything. He would take the discarded, broken down trash of the world and shape it back into something not just useful, but so visibly valuable that you’d stop and wonder why anyone would have thrown it out to begin with.
I couldn’t help but think of my Grandpa as I started clicking through the HandMadeByHeroes.com website, probably the premiere source of 550 paracord accessories.
If you’re looking for a cheap, Chinese-made paracord bracelet, stop reading now. If you’re a deeper sort who likes the idea of products with soul — products infused with a backstory — then it’s time you learn how HandMadeByHeroes.com is taking coils of ordinary paracord and using them to repurpose some of the broken things of the world. And turning out remarkable results. How do they do it? It’s all in the hands.
The HandMadeByHeroes.com Backstory: Broken Down Hands
Colorado Springs: land of endless military bases, home to thousands of US troops, and the launching pad for many, many US deployments.
My wife’s brother deployed from Fort Carson to Iraq in 2004, arriving just in time to join the assault on Fallujah. At the end of his tour, he stepped off the plane a different man. The lighthearted, sensitive guy we’d sent away came back to American soil sullen, withdrawn, and uncharacteristically volatile.
His wife didn’t have the patience to deal with his mood swings. In a downward spiral that ravaged his life faster than anyone could catch him, he found himself divorced, alone, and directionless. He eventually landed an evening job that gave him a taste of purpose and made use of the only skills he had: a bar bouncer.
His eventual salvation came one night at closing time when he found a lone woman with no ID passed out on a bar table. His protective instincts, learned and honed in the Middle East, kicked in. He scooped the woman up, took her back to his apartment, and let her sleep off the alcohol safe on his couch. Amazed at his self-control and kindness, she attached herself to him for life. The two of them just celebrated their 15th anniversary.
This sweet woman returned his favor by offering him the thing he needed most — a healing hand. Her encouragement gently re-purposed him into the kind of man who can succeed in society. He went back to school, earned a degree in Criminal Justice, and entered Law Enforcement — a career where he could do what he loved best: public service.
Folks, stop and take a look at the men and women stepping off of those planes from the Middle East. They walk through the airport, get applause and handshakes from the civilian crowds, then pass through the airport exit into society and, all too often, get lost.
Put yourself in the shoes of the average infantryman. You probably enlisted as an alternative to college, believing that the military would give you the skills you need to succeed in society.
Years later you step out of a combat role and back into American life just to find yourself a foreigner in your own country. Society doesn’t understand your military personality. The man reading your resume doesn’t seem impressed that you’re “loyal, hard-working, and can get the job done,” but he is concerned that you lack the “degrees and certifications we need.” Then the job you manage to land starts to evaporate when HR brings you in to discuss your volatile moods: “We feel that the way you respond to stress isn’t going to mesh with our company culture.”
Our vets come home with tough, experienced hands that are excited to make a contribution to society. Their hands need to hold responsibilities, but society still struggles to understand how to put those hands to work. In society’s eyes, hands that have been reshaped into combat-ready hands are broken and unfit for civilian life. As a result, too many vets stumble off into a lonely fog with their empty, idle, damaged hands hanging low.
My Grandpa would have wanted to see these broken, discarded hands lifted, fixed, filled with purpose, and turned into the best society has to offer.
HandMadeByHeroes.com: Re-purposing the Broken Hands
How do you re-purpose hands? By putting them to work. Any work will do, but the best work will re-train the hands to function with new vision and purpose.
HandMadeByHeroes.com was organized with one specific goal: give the lost, broken vets of the Colorado Springs area a place to come, find camaraderie, and start healing. From the beginning, the business was intended to serve as the outstretched hand that gently draws these folks out of the fog and helps them take their first steps back into society.
How does HandMadeByHeroes.com do it? By putting something into vets’ hands that they’re already intimate with: paracord. Only now, they learn to weave and tie it into products that civilian society loves: survival bracelets, designer bracelets for the ladies (which are surprisingly feminine for paracord products), bottle slings, watch bands, dog collars, and even golf tee holders. These hands get to start enjoying the healing that comes through creativity. At the same time, the vets find themselves working together around a table of other vets who understand — a friendly island refuge in a sea of civilian strangers.
They get paid for their work, they learn how a manufacturing business runs, including all of the web and social media aspects a successful venture relies on, and most of all, they gain confidence that society just might have a place for them.
HandMadeByHeroes.com shows patience for those like my brother-in-law who still suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. Vets can stay on as long as they please. But most will, sooner or later, move on to other jobs. Which is just fine for HandMadeByHeroes.com, whose driving purpose is to be that first step in a long staircase of successes.
At the time of writing (mid-2017), their small operation has seen over 100 vets pass through and step into other jobs. To me, that output is far more impressive than the 35,500 products they shipped last year, which is impressive in its own right.
How Good are HandMadeByHeroes Paracord Products?
When I opened my HandMadeByHeroes.com order, my teenage son was watching over my shoulder. His eyes caught the red-white-and-blue paracord bracelet — or I should say, his eyes caught it first, followed up by his hand. He was wrapping my bracelet around his wrist before I even realized he was there.
“Wow, Dad! This is nice! I get to have it, right?”
I had to fish it out of his room for this review.
By way of background, I have multiple teenage sons. They’re about as different as boys can be, to the point that I sometimes wonder if they really all came from the same gene pool. The one who swiped my bracelet isn’t the one who usually goes for paracord gear. But he really liked this one. I have another son who does collect paracord bracelets, so I rummaged through his collection for comparatives.
Here’s the HandMadeByHeroes.com bracelet side-by-side with the typical bracelets you’ll find on the market:
A couple of things should jump out at you right off the top. First, the buckles. Every paracord bracelet I’ve seen til now came with the typical, generic, plastic buckles we’re used to seeing. The HandMadeByHeroes.com version, on the other hand, features a high-polish metal buckle. What you can’t see in the pictures is that these buckles are spring-loaded and have some decent heft to them. I like that because it makes the bracelet feel a bit more substantial on the arm. Feather-light bracelets feel cheap in comparison.
The real business of the buckle, though, is sturdiness. You appreciate this when you’ve seen plastic buckles break, like the example below, or lose their springiness. Here’s a close-up comparison of buckles:
Next, you’ll notice the medallion. HandMadeByHeroes.com sets themselves apart with their medallions and embellishments. And they do a nice job with them, in my opinion. Besides being licensed to provide logos for most of the professional athletic leagues, they’ll do medical bracelets, patriotic bracelets, military and first responder themes, small charms for the ladies, and even custom items with your own logo. On my bracelet, the medallion is secured via an extra length of paracord that’s stretched through the weave. This adds an optional second highlight of color that lends just a bit more life to the bracelets without making them gaudy.
You’ll notice that in smaller sizes, HandMadeByHeroes.com bracelets come “gutted”. What does this mean? Paracord rope has two components: a hollow “sheath” and 7-9 inner “filaments” (see my post Everything You Wanted to Know about Paracord). HandMadeByHeroes.com occasionally removes the filaments to create a thinner profile. In mine, you can see that the filaments weren’t removed. Note the white in the melted ends — this is the filaments:
Minor gripe: Aesthetically, I’d like to see the ends fused to the bottom side of the bracelet. Granted, that might create some odd extra wraps/tucks, and it opens up the possibility of you getting a rough end rubbing your arm. So I suppose there are trade-offs either way.
I’m glad my son didn’t notice the other item I got from HandMadeByHeroes.com — a water bottle holder. I really like this thing. I’m a fan of water bottle holders. I’ve often tied my own:
The HandMadeByHeroes.com version is a hand strap woven in the same style as a survival bracelet. This is a plus because it creates a wide band that won’t pucker and cut into your hand when you’re carrying a full bottle:
It secures the bottle around its mouth via a spring-loaded, sliding button. It will accommodate any bottle size from small to the largest-mouth Nalgene bottle you own:
The touch of detail I really liked was a pair of survival features built into the buckle: an emergency whistle and a ferro rod with striker:
The whistle’s not as loud as a dedicated emergency whistle like the Slim Rescue Howler Whistle (which I always carry on the trail). At the same time, I live in the heart of the Rockies. In my area, day hikers are constantly falling off of steep trails where they can be very, very difficult to locate. Having a little whistle like this can get you heard by rescuers long after your voice has given out.
The ferro rod is a nice addition. Paired with a couple of Vaseline cotton balls it could easily provide you with a fire (see my article, Using Vaseline Cotton Balls as a Fire Starter). It shouldn’t take the place of a larger ferro rod like the Light My Fire “Army” model, but in a pinch it will give you a good spark, mostly thanks to its toothed, high-carbide striker/scraper. It’s a quality striker — better than I’ve gotten on some of my dedicated ferro rods. Just remember than you don’t “strike” a ferro rod like you would a flint and steel. Rather, you “scrape” it like you’re cutting into wood.
I had no trouble lighting a Vaseline cotton ball using the ferro rod:
Did I mention that I really dig this water bottle strap? HandMadeByHeroes.com might consider a couple of tweaks which would make a great product even better. First, put a little bead next to the adjustment button. The bead will help the button snug up even tighter against the bottle neck:
Second, come up with an alternate, shoulder-length version. Sometimes it’s nice to sling the bottle over your shoulder to free up your hands.
One final suggestion which applies to the whole HandMadeByHeroes.com product line: Make Titan SurvivorCord an option in some of your products. SurvivorCord takes the idea of paracord — a rope that’s many ropes in one — to a whole new level. It includes three extra filaments: a strand of waxed jute for fire starting, a strand of 25 lb fishing line, and a strand of wire for snares. Having some products available in Titan SurvivorCord would have the potential to elevate an already-excellent line high above the competition.
All-in-all, HandMadeByHeroes.com offers an outstanding, hand-made product line that comes with soul — a component missing from so many mass-produced products these days.
I can’t stop thinking about the name HandMadeByHeroes. I see two layers of meaning in that name. There’s the obvious one, but I also see it telling me something else. Namely, that these heroes are themselves being re-made by other heroes — vets giving vets a desperately-needed hand up. Heroes hand-made by heroes.
If I stop and think about the character of someone brought through the military, one quality stands out every time: unconditional loyalty. And we see that quality painted all over the HandMadeByHeroes.com operation.
The sad thing to me is that this kind of loyalty hasn’t pulled the rest of society into action. It should be our own businesses and corporations that are spotting our vets’ needs. We’re the most innovative nation on earth, yet we can’t seem to figure out how to tap into these uniquely capable hands or find a way to put these hands to work — for everyone’s benefit. Society has a thing or two to learn from our vets.
For the time being, thank Heavens some of them are taking care of each other.
I like what HandMadeByHeroes.com produces. It’s great stuff.
Disclosure: After I decided to review HandMadeByHeroes.com, I asked if they’d send me a couple of samples to inspect. These samples were provided at my request, not as payment for the review.